There’s macro, micro, domestic, imported, sub-premium and super-premium. Now introducing the latest descriptor in the craft brew movement: organic.
“Organic beer is the next logical step of craft brewing,” said Abram Goldman-Armstrong, an organizer of last year’s North American Organic Brewers Festival, the world’s largest organic beer fest since 2003. “The revolution in brewing is cyclical, with the roots being traditional ingredients and beer styles.” Goldman-Armstrong’s point is that after the success of craft breweries and high quality imported beers in the 1980s and 1990s, from an historical perspective, it makes sense for the better beer revolution to start going green (originally all breweries were pretty much organic).
Perhaps the largest, and certainly one of the first, organic craft breweries in the U.S. is Wolaver’s. Founded in California in 1997 by brothers Morgan and Robert Wolaver as Panorama Brewing, it changed its name in 2002 when the brothers bought a small craft brewery in Middlebury, Vermont. Before that, their certified organic ales were brewed at five different locations across the country.
“Our beliefs and philosophy as individuals and as a company are that everything we eat should be from a sustainable process,” says Morgan.
Wolaver’s brews Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, Brown Ale and Oatmeal Stout year-round. Will Steven’s Pumpkin Ale, Pat Leavy’s All American Ale, Ben Gleason’s White Ale and 10th Anniversary Farmhouse Ale are seasonal releases, with the first three recognizing organic farmers in the names.
“The Pinkus-Muller Brauerei of Germany was the first brewery in the world we know of to ‘go organic,’” said Craig Hartinger of Merchant du Vin, a specialty beer importer. “That was in 1980.” Pinkus was established in 1816, when it was certainly organic.
Merchant du Vin brings Munster Alt, Ur-Pils, Hefe-Weizen and Jubilate to the U.S. from Pinkus. Also in the importer’s portfolio are several organic varieties from Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery of England (established in 1758): lager, ale, strawberry, raspberry and cherry.
One stumbling block for organic brewers early on was the lack of available organic barley and hops, the two most important agricultural ingredients needed to brew beer. Today there are organic barley farmers in many countries. Hops have proved trickier, but are available in New Zealand (the largest supplier), Germany, the U.S and the U.K.
Jon Cadoux, founder of Peak Brewing (Portland, Maine) in 2005, says that brewing organic beer is “a life passion of ours and it gives us a sense of pride.”
Peak’s year-round beers are Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, Nut Brown Ale and Amber Ale. Seasonal brews include Maple Oat Wheat Ale, Espresso Amber Ale and Pomegranate Wheat Ale (with coriander and açaí juice).
The world’s largest organic brewery, which converted to all-organic production in 1987, is Neumarkter Lammsbräu, founded in Germany in 1628. Lammsbräu’s beers are available in the U.S.
As of the moment, there are about a dozen American craft breweries and brewpubs, listed below, that produce only organic beer:
Bison Brewing (Berkeley, CA)
Butte Creek/Golden West Brewing (Chico, CA)
Eel River Brewing (Fortuna, CA)
Elliot Bay Brewing (Burien, WA)
Hopworks Brewing (Portland, OR)
MateVeza (San Francisco, CA)
Orlando Brewing (Orlando, FL)
Peak Brewing (Portland, ME)
Roots Brewing (Portland, OR)
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing (Santa Cruz, CA)
Ukiah Brewing (Ukiah, CA)
Wolaver’s Certified Organic Ales (Middlebury, VT)
A few other breweries have organic lines in their portfolios or one or two organic beers. Fish Brewing (Olympia, WA) has Fish Tale Organic Ales, and Clipper City Brewing (Baltimore, MD) has Oxford Organic Ales. Even Anheuser-Busch brews an organic under the Michelob Brewing brand—Stone Mill Organic Pale Ale.
“Society today wants instant gratification,” said Morgan Wolaver. “I don’t believe in that. It’s a lifelong commitment. Our brewing organic beer is a socially responsible belief and it impacts everyone. It has a sustainable impact on the global community.”